Forewarned: The Wages of Sin is Death

St. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359AD) says  in a sermon:

“Not only did God not make death, but He hindered it from happening. However, as He had created man as a living being with free will, He could not prevent it without destroying His creature by taking away the freedom He had given. Nevertheless, in His wisdom and goodness He found a way to keep man from death while preserving his free will. How was this to be achieved? As soon as He had formed man and brought  him to life, He gave him a counsel that would make him immortal. To establish this instruction very firmly from the beginning, He made it His commandment and proclaimed it openly, emphasizing that to break this life-giving precept meant death, not death for the body at this stage, but death for the soul.

He told the man and the woman, our ancestors, ‘In the day that you eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die’ (cf. Gen. 2:17). Notice that He did not say the imperative, ‘Die when you eat it.’ By His orders everything that exists was made, He commanded and all things were created (Ps. 33:9). But He did not give the command for death, although He forewarned that is would result from transgressing His commandment, telling them not to eat of the tree, for on the day they ate they would die. This He did so that they might follow His counsel, escape disobedience, and not encounter death. It is obvious that He was referring at that time to the death of the soul, not of the body, because they did not die physically on the day they ate from the forbidden tree.” (The Homilies, pp. 243-243)

St. Thomas: Holy Skepticism

The 2nd Sunday after Pascha in the Orthodox Church commemorate the Apostle Thomas and his blessed doubt (See also my 2009 blog The Blessed Doubt of Thomas).

“Such was the case with Thomas. When Thomas secured the empirical proof of Jesus’ Resurrection he did not simply say, as did Peter, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Mt. 16:16). This same ‘information’ was requested and given to the High Priest (Mt. 26:63) and did not lead to any confession of faith whatsoever. On the contrary. The ‘information’ is never enough because this would force belief in a love for God, and God does not desire forced love, which is never true love. Hence Thomas did not make a confession like Peter because it would have allowed him to walk away, as if having learned and stated and objective fact which subsequently did not impact his own life.

Thomas’ confession reveals that the goal of Thomas’ questioning was not simply knowledge but salvation – a salvific knowledge. Thomas has to know the truth because it was a matter of life or death for him. Having learned it, Thomas turned his very life over to Jesus Christ by exclaiming ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn. 20:28). Thomas is an example for us today: skepticism is not a sin if finding the Truth is our ultimate and salvific concern. If it is, proofs will be given by God Himself. These may not be accepted by others who do not have that concern – there are many who would not believe ‘even if one rose from the dead’ (Lk. 16:31). In fact, Someone did rise from the dead and Christ’s prophecy holds: they still do not believe. But if we are seeking we shall find. Or rather, God will find us, as He did Thomas. Then it will be up to us to say, like Thomas, ‘My Lord and my God.’ ”
(Hieromonk Calinic (Berger), Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life, pp. 68-69)

Living and Dying With Christ

“For Paul, then, to share in the sufferings and death of Jesus is not just a question of putting up with pain and degradation and hardship, but a sharing in Christ’s ministry of bringing healing and life to others. Christ himself is the source of this healing and life, but those in Christ must share in what he is, and so become those through whom this principle of ‘life through death’ operates. … Writing to the Philippians, he tells them that their present suffering is a ‘privilege’ granted to them by God: ‘For the sake of Christ, you have been granted not simply to believe in Christ, but to suffer for his sake also’ (Phil. 1:29). The repeated ‘for the sake of Christ/for his sake’ reminds us that the Philippians’ suffering was a response to what he had done on their behalf. What they were experiencing was part of the same struggle that Paul himself was enduring (1:30), and like his (1:12-14) meant that the gospel was being made known to new people (1:28). In all this, Paul is drawing out the implications of what is involved in living ‘not for oneself, but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf’. If those who have died with Christ now live ‘for him’, then this life will bring life to others, for it is a sharing in his dying for others:

One has died on behalf of all,

Therefore all have died.

And he died on behalf of all

in order that the living might no longer live to themselves,

but for the one who died and was raised on their behalf.

(2 Cor. 5:14-15)

(Morna D. Hooker, Paul: Beginners Guide, pp. 131-132)

St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Believe the Resurrection

St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386AD) offers some thoughts for those who have a difficult time believing in the resurrection of the dead:

“Use your body, I beseech you, with moderation. Remember, with this body you will be raised from death when you come to be judged. Perhaps you have some doubt whether this could happen. If so, reflect in detail on what has already happened within your own self. Tell me, where were you a hundred years ago? Cannot the Creator who gave existence to a person that did not exist bring to life again a person that did exist but is now dead? Every year he makes the corn spring to life that had withered and died after it was sown. Do you suppose that he who raised himself from the dead for our sake will have any difficulty in raising us to new life? Or look at the trees. For a number of months they remain without fruit, even without leaves. But once the winter is past, they become green, they become green all over, new, as if risen from the dead. With better reason, and with greater ease, shall we be called to new life. Do not listen to those who deny the resurrection of the body. Isaiah testifies: ‘The dead shall live again: the bodies of those who have died shall live.’ (Isa. 26:19) And according to the word of Daniel, ‘Many of those who sleep beneath the earth shall awaken, some to life eternal, the rest to eternal ruin.’ (Dan. 12:2)”  (Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, pp. 82-83)

The God Who Raises the Dead

Not all Jews living at the time of Jesus placed hope in a resurrection for the dead either in this world or some world to come.  See for example the description of the Sadducees in Mark 12:18 and Acts 23:8.  However, belief in a resurrection is found in some Jewish documents from the time of Christ, other than the New Testament.

Scholar David Instone-Brewer reports  that a prayer expressing faith that God raises the dead is found in the Palestinian version of the 18 Benedictions which is dated as being from before 70AD.  Here is the prayer from the 18 Benedictions:

You are powerful, humbling the proud;

Strong, and judging the violent;

Alive forever, raising the dead;

Making wind flow and dew fall;

sustaining the living, reviving the dead.

Like the fluttering of an eye,

make our salvation sprout.

Blessed are you Lord, reviving the dead.



Faith and hope in the resurrection is not something invented by Christians, but fulfilled the hopes of at least some Jews.  The Christian interpretation of the prophecies and promises of God as pointing to the resurrection from the dead show Christianity well in the stream of Jewish thinking, faith and understanding of their scriptures.

A Brief History of the Paschal Celebration

Archimandrite Job Getcha offers the following history of the Paschal celebration we Orthodox now keep:

“The Christians of Rome waited for cockcrow to break the fast, while those in Alexandria did so from the evening of the previous day. Dionysius reviews the resurrection accounts in the gospels: ‘on the night of Saturday’ in Matthew, ‘in the early dawn while it was still dark’ in John, ‘at the first break of day’ in Luke, and ‘in the early morning, at the rising of the sun’ in Mark. Dionysius writes: ‘At what moment he was resurrected, none of them tells us clearly, but only that, late on Saturday night, at dawn of the first day of the week, those who came to the tomb did not find him there.’ Unable therefore to establish the precise time at which to break the fast, Dionysius concludes:

This being the case, we answer those who seek to determine the time, to within half an hour, or a quarter hour, when it is fitting to begin celebrating the resurrection from the dead of our Lord. Those who are in too much of a hurry, and who relax (the fast) even before the night has approached its midpoint, these we censure as faint-hearted and intemperate, for they end their race just a little before the goal, whereas as wise man has said: ‘it is not a small thing in life to miss the goal by a little.’ As for those who delay and wait for the longest possible time, persevering until the fourth watch, when the Lord, walking on the sea, appeared to those who were traveling by boat, we commend them as courageous and devotees of penitence. Those who, between these two extremes, ended the fast according to their internal disposition and their ability, let us not trouble beyond measure; for indeed, not even the six days of fasting that come before are kept equally or similarly- some let all six days go by without taking any food, while others allow only two days, others three, others four, others none. For those who have struggled greatly in spending days without food, and who are exhausted and almost faint, we excuse them for taking food a little earlier; while those who not only did not pass these days without food, but who did not fast at all or even feasted during the first four days, and abstained from food only on the last two days, that is, on Friday and Saturday, and think that they are doing something great and splendid if they keep the fast until dawn on Sunday, I think that such people did not struggle as hard as those who exercised themselves for many days.

Later the Council in Trullo (692AD) established that:

After having spent the days of the saving passion in fasting, prayer, and compunction of heart, the faithful should break the fast only at midnight on Holy Saturday, because the evangelists Matthew and Luke, one through the words ‘late in the night that follows Saturday’ (Mt. 28:1), the other through the expression ‘at early dawn’ (Lk. 24:1), specify the late hour of the night.

[…] In Greek practice, the priest leaves the sanctuary and distributes the paschal fire while singing: ‘Come and receive light from the unfading light, and glorify Christ who rose from the dead.’ This chant, found in the contemporary Typikon of the Great Church, reflects a practice that became common in the nineteenth century, and which is rooted in the tradition of Jerusalem, no doubt in connection with the miraculous paschal fire attested since the twelfth century.[…] The modern Typikon of the Great Church calls for the reading of the pericope from Mark 16, a custom that appeared in the nineteenth century. The ancient Typika say nothing about a procession.” (The Typikon Decoded, pps. 230-231, 233)


Pascha (2014): Christ is Risen!

Dear Ones, Loved by God,

Christ is risen!

Prophet Joshua

One image we have of the Church is that of the people of Israel sojourning in the desert after their miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt.  Forty years they wandered in a wilderness before entering the Promised Land.  And that entrance into the Promised Land was only the beginning of their struggles to conquer that territory.  The Promised Land did not free them from struggles but became a testing ground of their faith, and they often failed God in their work.

Pascha, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, comes also at the end of the long Lenten sojourn.  Pascha according to our hymns is our sojourn from death to life and from earth to heaven.  Yet, even though we have reached Pascha, we know that our spiritual sojourn and struggle in the world continues.

In the Paschal celebration we joyously proclaim:

Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered! Let those that hate Him flee from before His face.

Prophet Moses


These words were first uttered by Moses each day that the Hebrew children were directed by God to continue their sojourn in the desert wilderness (Numbers 10:34).  Whenever the Israelites were directed by God to break camp and move, Moses proclaimed those words.  So too for us, each Pascha, we proclaim those same words as God continues to direct us on our sojourn through this world.  Christ’s victory over death is as certain as God’s defeat of the Egyptian slave masters.  We celebrate that victory, and then faithfully embrace the sojourn to that Kingdom of Heaven where all sickness, sorrow, sighing and suffering have fled away.  The day of rest, in which we will no longer struggle to find our way, still lies ahead.

Our joy is in having experienced the victory of Christ over death and in knowing our sojourn on earth is not the obstacle preventing us from reaching the Kingdom, but the very path on which God wishes to take us.   “Let God arise!”  Let Him lead and guide us every day of our lives.  Let us rejoice in the resurrection and with the fear of God and in faith and love let us move toward that blessed Kingdom, never being shaken by the threats or temptations of the world which will pass away.

Again this year, I recommend to all to view the beautiful Serbian Orthodox Paschal music video.  You don’t have to understand Serbian to appreciate the total Christian joy and beauty of the video.

Fr. Ted


Christ Frees ALL From Hell

“If we add to the above texts those that speak of Christ’s descent and victory as a complete ‘emptying’ of hell, it becomes clear that the authors of the liturgical books saw Christ’s descent as significant for all people without exception. Sometimes various categories of the dead are mentioned, such as ‘the pious’ or ‘righteous’, but nowhere do the hymns speak of selectivity – the existence of certain groups that were unaffected by Christ’s descent. Nowhere in the octoechos is it stated that Christ preached to the righteous but left sinners without his saving words or that he led the holy fathers out of hell but left all the rest. It is never indicated that someone was excluded from God’s providence for the salvation of the people, accomplished in the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Had Christ shed mercy only on the Old Testament righteous who awaited his coming, what miracle is this? Had he freed from Hades only the righteous, leaving behind the sinners, why would the ‘assembly of Angels’ have been amazed? One of the Orthodox evening prayers, attributed to St. John Damascene, reads: ‘for to save a righteous man is no great thing, and to have mercy on the pure is nothing wonderful, for they are worthy of your mercy.’  Had Christ saved only those to whom salvation belonged by right, it would not have been so much an act of mercy as the fulfillment of duty or a restoration of justice. ‘Should you save me for my works, this would not be grace or gift, but rather a duty,’ reads one of the morning prayers.

This is precisely the reason that the liturgical texts return again and again to the theme of Christ’s descent into Hades, and why church hymnographers express their wonder and astonishment at this event. The descent into Hades does not fit in with our usual, human ideas of justice, retribution, fulfillment of duty, the rewarding of the righteous, and the punishment of the guilty. Something extraordinary happened that made the angels shudder and be seized with wonder: Christ descended into Hades, destroyed its ‘strongholds’ and ‘bars’, unlocked the gates of hell, and ‘opened up the path of resurrection to all people.’ He opened up the way to paradise for everyone without exception.” (Archbishop  Hilarion Alfeyev, Christ the Conqueror of Hell, pp. 178-179)